This week I’m reviewing two zines collaboratively made by Lewis Wallace, Micah Bazant, and others. Both are free to download and are totally awesome.
Miklat Miklat: A Transformative Justice Zine
Ed. Lewis Wallace and Micah Bazant
28 pg. at half-letter size
So, you believe in prison abolition (right?). You’re no fan of the police, and they probably don’t like you either. You don’t think anything is gained by putting someone in prison when they do something wrong and you don’t feel like the presence of police sets a situation right or makes you safer. What do you do when something goes wrong in your life or in your community? Do you have a way of thinking about what happened in a way that makes sense? Does your community have a way to fix itself and to help people feel OK again?
This zine collects ten stories from various writers and sources. Each centres around the theme of transformative justice and draws out some aspect of the concept or process. As the editors explain, “Some of them are sad, some are ambiguous, some are stories of failure, and some are examples of concrete organizing towards transformative models of justice.”
The rhetorical structure of this zine is pretty neat. It takes as its inspiration two concepts from the Talmud, the Scapegoat, and the City of Refuge. By juxtaposing these two concepts, they aim to zero in on some of the concepts and thought processes that guide the way we think about trauma, justice, and healing.
You’re probably familiar with the concept of the scapegoat, the individual or entity who cleanses a community of its transgressions by taking them on and being cast out. The zine’s editors give this metaphor a radical gloss:
“Scapegoating may give an impression of a cleansed, pure or “safe” community, but what happens to the goat? And what about the memories—the unhealed wounds and unspoken transgressions of the whole community— that the goat takes with it over the edge of the cliff?”
The second concept used here to draw out the concepts around transformative justice is the idea of the City of Refuge (“Miklat Miklat” means “Refuge Refuge”), described in the Torah as a place where “people who had transgressed or been put out of their community of origin [could find] a place of refuge, absorption and integration.”
The idea of transformative justice is that the individuals involved are transformed, but so is the political and social world in which the transgression took place. Transformative justice must spring from the community involved, and can’t be imposed from above. It asks us to take seriously the humanity of offenders, their traumas, and the ways that their path through life has been directed by systems of oppression.
There’s lots of interesting stories given to illustrate these ideas. One is from ESPN.com (!!!). It’s about NBA star Chris Paul, whose grandfather was beaten to death by a group of boys his age when he was a teenager. The boys went on to grow up in prison, and Paul publicly forgave them and expressed his wish that they could be released. It is a moving story, especially from such an unlikely source.
There is also an article about a woman who publicly forgave a group of teenagers who sexually assaulted her, and held a community celebration to show and enjoy the strength of her family, her community, and her own spirit. To be honest, I have no idea how people forgive other people for stuff like that, so the articles on forgiveness both intrigued me and set my teeth on edge.
There’s also a really interesting article by someone who was accused of abuse by a partner, and made every effort to live up to the standards of accountability in which they fervently believed. However, they found that they were instead ostracized from a community that paid lip service to the concepts of accountability and healing without having any way of putting them into action to make the community whole again.
This writer’s point is that being accountable or enforcing accountability can only take you so far. Communities also need to have practical models for making things OK again. As this anonymous contributor points out, otherwise the effect is to marginalize people who are in many cases already marginalized:
“They were trans people of color and white working class trans people, all of whom had no biological family to fall back on. We were far from perfect, but had done nothing resembling these accusations, and we had relied on that community for survival before being excommunicated.”
Another writer gives a totally awesome account of how she was supported by her community in extricating herself from a relationship with her violent husband, both at the moment she was in danger and over the longer term as she dealt with the fallout. I think having this kind of story available is incredibly important. Everybody wants to support someone who’s in a bad place, but actually knowing how and being able to follow through on it in a way that is sustained and effective is a whole other ball game.
As a bookish sort, I think the idea of supporting radical change by developing new metaphors is intriguing, though by no means a substitute for organizing and direct action. Metaphors guide our reasoning and lend structure to our emotional impulses.
We need metaphors with the explanatory power and emotional pull to stand up to the idea of the criminal justice system as the “thin blue line” standing between safety and mayhem, the notion of “an eye for an eye”, the image a cop or a voter has of what a criminal looks like. (That last one might be a synecdoche rather than a metaphor?) In any case, thanks to Lewis Wallace and Micah Bazant for this unique and extremely thought-provoking zine.
- Lily Pepper